Monday, 26 September 2016

The Raid 2

The Raid 2; action crime, Indonesia / USA, 2014; D: Gareth Evans, S: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusadewo

Jakarta. After the last events, and upon hearing that his brother Andi was killed by criminal Bejo, police officer Rama agrees to go to an undercover mission to expose a mafia web from within: he is sent to prison under a fake identity, Yuda, in order to make friends with Uco, whose father is crime lord Bangun. After being released from prison, Bangun hires Rama to work for him. An impatient Uco wants to attack the Japanese mafia, causing clashes which Bangun has to settle. Uco kills his father, which causes Rama to intervene. Rama is captured, but flees thanks to Eka, another undercover agent. Rama storms Bejo's restaurant. Bejo and Uco are killed.

After "The Raid" achieved cult status, Gareth Evans also directed its sequel, with an inversion of the strategy: while the 1st film has constant action and very little character development, in part 2 this ratio is overturned upside down, now giving more character development and story, with less action or battle sequences. The story has little to do with the original, and instead takes on an entirely different turn, which reminds of "Infernal Affairs" - the main protagonist, police officer Rama, here goes undercover to win the trust of a crime lord and infiltrate his gangster circle - yet it is overfilled with too many supporting characters and suffers from overcomplicating the simple storyline, causing an exhaustion that is simply way too much for some viewers. "The Raid 2" ends up with a running time that is 50% longer than the 1st film, losing its measure in endless subplots, but its overall effect is not 50% stronger, as well, since these overlong and overstuffed storylines simply cause a yearning for one phrase: sometimes, less is more. The dialogues are often banal, whereas some moments are just way too primitive (gangster Bajo cutting the throat of five hostages in a room, one by one). Still, Evans and actor Iko Uwais manage to compensate thanks to a dozen martial arts fights, some of which are again virtuoso crafted: the 6-minute sequence where Rama struggles to escape from two bodyguards in a driving car, leading to an epic car chase through the streets, is directed and acted with such a passion that it bloomed into a small highlight of the action genre.

Grade;++

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The Raid

Serbuan Maut; action thriller, Indonesia / France / USA, 2011; D: Gareth Evans, S: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Donny Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian

Police officer Rama, a martial arts expert, is one of the 20 SWAT team officers who are sent to raid an apartment building, since a criminal, Tama, has his headquarters on the top floor. The police manage to reach the 6th floor, but are then ambushed by Tama's gangsters, who kill everyone except for four people: Rama, Bowo, Dagu and Lieutenant Wahyu, who tells them that no reinforcements will be coming to help them, since he started the mission on his own and knows that Tama corrupted the police to the highest ranks. Among the tenants who help and hide them in an apartment is Rama's brother, criminal Andi. Wahyu manages to reach the top floor, arrest Tama, but then kills Dagu. He also kills Tama, and is then arrested by Rama and Bowo, who walk away from the place.

"The Raid" managed to help put Indonesian cinema on the map, showing an audacious energy that already helped other Asian countries reach the world stage, such as the Korean cinema in the 90s or Hong Kong's cinema in the 80s - though it is peculiar to mention one footnote, namely that the story was not conjured up by an Indonesian author, but by a British one, director Gareth Evans. The film starts in medias res, not taking up time to build up the protagonists, but to immediately place the characters into action, sending the SWAT team quickly to raid the apartment building floor by floor - while this help grab the viewers attention from the start, it later on proves somewhat detrimental, since the lack of character development sometimes causes confusion as to whom is actually fighting whom, and thus restricts the viewers from emotionally engaging into the story. Still, Evans' fascination with Pencak Silat pays off, since "The Raid" is filled with nonstop suspense and manages to keep up that level throughout the entire film, with some sequences standing out due to virtuoso choreographed martial arts fights (the bomb in the refrigerator; jumping through a hole on the ceiling to escape from gangsters on the upper floor; the anthological sequence where Mad Dog fights with both Andi and Rama even though he has a sharp object stuck in his neck...), though it is not for everyone's taste since a fair share of them are hard core and brutal (villain Tama, for instances, is introduced shooting captured people in the head one by one, and when he is out of bullets, he takes the last man out with a hammer). "The Raid" is an interesting 'raw', basic action film done with enough spirit and energy to please genre fans, though it is still not in the same league as Asia's action classics such as J. Woo's "Hard Boiled" or J. Chan's "Project A".

Grade;++

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Harvey

Harvey; comedy, USA, 1950; D: Henry Koster, S: James Stewart, Josephine Hull, Peggy Dow, Charles Drake, Victoria Horne

Elwood Dowd is a normal, happy man who lives in a small town, except for one thing - he imagines that he is talking to an invisible, 6'3 rabbit all of the time. This is especially frowned upon by his sister Veta and niece Myrtle who is afraid that all her suitors are scared away by Elwood's peculiar behavior. Veta tries to commit Elwood into a mental asylum, but is committed there herself - until Dr. Chumley realizes the mistake and orders the staff to release Veta and search for Elwood. Dr. Sanderson and nurse Kelly get to know Elwood better, and realize he is a harmless man living in his own fantasy world. Veta finally changes her mind and decides to allow Elwood to live the way he likes.

One of the first examples of 'bizarre cinema', "Harvey" is an unusual ode to individuality, of people having the right to live in their very own fantasy world to escape from the grey-boring routine in life, as long as it is benign. James Stewart is excellent in the leading role, delivering another sympathetic, charming performance, whereas several jokes involving his imaginary invisible rabbit are very amusing (in the pub, the bartender politely asks a confused customer to pay for his drink, and he says that Elwood's friend should pay for it; Wilson asks the bartender if Elwood is sitting alone in the pub, and he replies with: "Well, there's two school's of thought, sir"; the protagonist's defining quote: "I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it."), but the storyline is rather chaotic and uneven, resulting in a 'patchwork': after the abrupt de-tour to a subplot involving a mental asylum in the first third - which is forcefully funny and misguided for almost half an hour - the film never truly recovers. Another detriment lies in the decision to not clearly state *why* Elwood is imagining his "friend" - is the rabbit his childhood friend caused by his loneliness? His trauma? Or does Elwood just like messing around with people? - as well as the pointless decision to imply that Harvey is actually real (scenes of doors opening by themselves), which leaves the overall theme rather vague and without a conclusion, though there is still room for speculation involving an allegory for religion or personal rights.

Grade;++

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Key Largo

Key Largo; crime drama, USA, 1948; D: John Huston, S: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor

Former Major McCloud takes a bus trip to Key Largo, Florida, the southernmost place in the US, to pay respects to Mr. Temple, a hotel owner in a wheelchair, whose son George died in World War II under McCloud's command. McCloud also meets George's widow, Nora. However, as a storm blocks the island, the three are taken hostage in the hotel by gangster Rocco and his gang, who want to make a comeback in the US. The gang also kills an undercover police officer, Sawyer. When the storm settles, McCloud agrees to drive Rocco and the gang in a boat to the Cuban territory, yet rebels, and in an act of courage, kills them all with a gun, before notifying the police.

"Key Largo" is an ambitious and good crime film, yet compared to some of Humphrey Bogart's and John Huston's greatest classics, it seems somehow meagre, almost as a 'film noir light'. Deliciously set in a remote hotel in Key Largo at night, cut off during a hurricane that works almost as an exterior manifestation of the "storm inside" the two opposing sides - three people held hostage by a gangster and his gang - the film works as an uncomfortable 'kammerspiel', slowly building its dark mood and always keeping its taste and measure, yet a major problem is that once the antagonist Rocco, played by Edward G. Robinson, enters the stage, he pretty much takes over the entire film and overshadows Bogart's McCloud to the point of marginalization, who just keeps quiet in the corner and barely does or say anything throughout the entire time. In "Key Largo", Huston rarely rises to the ocassion, since the film lacks highlights and those inspired examples of writing or dialogues from that era, settling more for standard, easy way out in the form of the simple confrontation between Rocco and his hostages. Several sequences also seem like an empty walk that lead nowhere (for instance, when Rocco forces Dawn to sing for a drink, it is just there to illustrate how mean he is, yet that was already established before) and thus do not engage completely. One of the few examples of greatness is the sequence McCloud describes Rocco ("Whom he couldn't corrupt, he terrified, whom he couldn't terrify, he murdered.") or when Temple prays to God that the storm should destroy them all in the building, which causes Rocco to become extremely nervous. The finale also seems rather anticlimactic, since - although it was suspenseful - it did not stem naturally from McCloud's personality, since it all seemed alien to him and his life.

Grade;++

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Ra.One

Ra.One; science-fiction / action / drama / comedy, India, 2011; D: Anubhav Sinha, S: Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Arman Verma, Tom Wu

London. In an Indian expatriate family, the 12-year old Prateek is embarrassed by his clumsy and spineless father, Shekhar, who works as a video game designer. In order to impress him, Shekhar decides to create a different, "bad ass" 3D game where the villain, Ra.One, is stronger than the good guy, G.One. However, due to a malfunction, Ra.One comes to the real world and kills Shekhar. His wife, Sonia, and Prateek, are shocked and flee to India, but G.One also comes to life to protect them, taking on Shekhar's appearance, but not his memories. Since Ra.One hunts for them, G.One and Prateek create a game match and manage to defeat Ra.One. However, G.One also disintegrates. Six months later, back in London, Prateek manages to return and assemble G.One back to the real world.

One of the most expensive Indian films at the time of its release, aimed at the Western audience not only through its filming locations but also through its style and superhero storyline, "Ra.One" received contradictory reactions, yet it is a more than solid blockbuster fun thanks to its charm and self-ironic humor at times, as well as the fact that these kind of cliche, special effects loaded films still seem somehow fresh when coming from non-English speaking cinema. Better during its comedy than during its action moments, "Ra.One" is a crazy patchwork, yet has some sort of energy and enthusiasm that carries the film, whereas Shah Ruh Khan is again in great shape, first as the video game designer Shekhar who is at times as clumsy as Inspector Clouseau (at the entrance of a skyscraper, he throws his keys towards a friend, yet just then a blond woman passes by and "intercepts" the keys in her cleavage) and then later on as the 3D video game character G.One who takes the human appearance of the deceased Shekhar, much to the confusion of his widow Sonia, thereby giving the film themes reminiscent of "Terminator 2" and "Starman", The action sequences are rather tiresome and stale (one notable exception is when Ra.One and G.One are throwing cars at each other on the parking lot) - on one hand it is remarkable that Indian cinema managed to reach the technical level of modern Sci-Fi superhero movies, yet on the other hand it is a pity it also just copied some of its stereotypes, instead of offering something unique - whereas it also suffers from Bollywood's typical syndrome of overlong running time of nearly three hours, yet the movie flows smoothly, is catchy, accessible and even delivers a few touching moments (the song where Shekhar sings to Sonia: "Oh, my darling, compared to you, the world is insignificant"; one of G.One's final words: "Even good people die... But their good deeds live forever."), and is thus an overall good edition to the superhero genre.

Grade;++

Bridget Jones's Baby

Bridget Jones's Baby; romantic comedy, UK / USA, 2016; D: Sharon Maguire, S: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Jim Broadbent, Gemma Jones, Emma Thompson

London. Bridget Jones, working as a reporter for Hard News programme, is annoyed that she is still single at 43, but settles with her lonely fate. However, her fate changes when she meets Jack and has a one-night stand with him in a tent during a concert. A few weeks later, she meets her ex-boyfriend Mark Darcy and has sex with him after he tells her he is in the middle of a divorce. Bridget is shocked when she finds out she is pregnant, since she is unsure who of the two is the father. Jack and Mark try to cooperate until they find the results. Bridget gives birth and finds out she loves Mark. The two get married a year later.

After the terrible sequel, "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason", many feared that a 3rd part of the "Bridget Jones" film series, made 12 years later, would be a disaster. However, thanks to the return of the original crew, director Sharon Maguire and writer Helen Fielding, as well as an co-screenwriting intervention by Emma Thompson, the quality of "Bridget Jones's Baby" was revised upwards, overturning the trend and delivering a truly worthy follow-up to the excellent 1st film, whereas Thompson even managed to secure herself with a gem of a supporting role as Dr. Rawling. Part 3 delivers refreshing examples of wit, enchanting emotions and charm: while the opening act pokes fun at the heroine's age ("You are so old you have become a MILF." - "No, I'm not even a mother. I'm a spinster. I'm a SPILF"; during Jones's birthday party in the office, one woman complains that the cake is "too hot" from too many candles on it), it later turns out remarkably pleasant and optimistic - showing that Jones's autumn years could still turn into her new spring years is touching, and gives a worthy conclusion to her storyline. The plot concept where a heroine is not sure who of the two men is the father of her baby has already been done a hundred times, whereas it was also unoriginal to insert a few clips from the 1st film, yet "Bridget Jones's Baby" compensates thanks to wonderful, sympathetic characters, an unrelenting array of jokes - one of the best is the subtle gag in the Italian restaurant when Jones finally tells both Mark and Jack that she is unsure with whom she is pregnant with, which causes the bartender to "discretely" turn his back away from them - and Renee Zellweger who makes a spectacular comeback to top-notch shape as the lovable title heroine, who is precisely so sweet because she is so clumsy and imperfect. The viewers should simply skip the 2nd film, and instead just watch this 3rd edition, which is the 'true' sequel to the spirit of "Bridget Jones".

Grade;++

Friday, 9 September 2016

Pardes

Pardes; drama / romance / musical, India, 1997; D: Subhash Ghai, S: Shah Rukh Khan, Mahima Chaundhry, Amrish Puri, Apurva Aghnihotri

Kishorilal is an Indian who went to the US and became a rich tycoon in Los Angeles. At an old age, he returns to one Indian village to meet his old friend, Suraj, and asks that his daughter, Ganga, marries his son Rajiv in L.A. Suraj accepts and Ganga is flown to L.A. to meet and get married to Rajiv, but finds out he is an abusive alcoholic. Kishorilal's foster son, Arjun, tries to help them resolve the issues, but to no avail - which is further complicated when she falls in love with Arjun. When Rajiv beats her up, Ganga leaves America and returns to India with Arjun. Rajiv finds and wants to kill them, but Arjun manages to stop him and persuade Kishorilal that a forced marriage in wrong.

One of Shah Rukh Khan's early movies, "Pardes" takes on an interesting and popular topic of Indian immigrants living in another country, in this case America (a more comical variation of that would four years later be repeated in "Sometimes there's Happiness"), and thus offers a few contemplations about the culture clash between India's conservative and Western liberal values, yet succumbs to some persistent, typical Bollywood flaws - unnecessary musical sequences and an overlong running time of 3 hours which exhausts the material. There are several good, well thought out sequences, some of which are comical (i.e. when Arjun, who lives in Los Angeles arrives for the first time to the Indian village, he orders the family to remove cows and dirt for Rajiv, who will show up soon for the wedding engagement) - yet, unfortunately, with such an overlong running time, they were reduced to a minority. Rajiv is, unfortunately, predictably presented as a black and white bad guy, in order for the writer and director to transparently make it is easy for the viewers to root for Arjun and Ganga in the love triangle, which goes so far that even his cigarettes are presented as a sign for his rotten nature - he does make a few actually valid points aimed at Ganga's too conservative nature in one moment ("You shun even the word 'sex'... You insist on premarital chastity, yet, at the same time, India is the country with the highest population growth!"), but her views are always, exclusively presented as right, and his as wrong, which is uneven. The melodramatic ending does not improve that impression, either, yet Khan still managed to deliver an untypically vulnerable, sacrificing role, something which should be complimented.

Grade;+

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The Fabulous World of Jules Verne

Vynález zkázy; fantasy, Czech Republic, 1958; D: Karel Zeman, S: Lubor Tokoš, Arnošt Navrátil, Miloslav Holub, František Šlégr, Jana Zatloukalová

Brilliant Professor Roch and his assistant Hart are kidnapped one night from their mansion by pirates led by gangster Count Artigas, who sends them inside the crater of an empty island volcano in order to force the Professor to make a deadly weapon, a giant cannon. A lost woman on the sea, Jana, is also sent to the island. Hart sends a letter in a balloon which reaches the authorities who send their ships to arrest Artigas. Hart and Jana escape in a balloon, while Roch deliberately throws the shell of the cannon downhill, causing a giant explosion that destroys the island and Artigas with him.

Karel Zeman's 3rd film, "The Fabulous World of Jules Verne", sometimes also alternatively titled "The Deadly Invention", is a pure escapist fantasy adventure flick that seizes the most of attention from its ultra-stylized sets and cutout-special effects - aligned to form a feel of illustrations from Jules Vernes' novel put on celluloid - some of which remind of hyper art-worlds of W. Anderson or T. Burton, and was thus a small sensation during its premiere for being one of rare fantasy films outside the English language speaking world in cinema. Zeman's audacity and sixth sense for special and visual effects is remarkable, giving it a feel as if the human characters are walking inside a comic-book (cutout stairs, pillars or even the whole engine room; the stop-motion animation of fish, with the "shy highlight" of a giant octopus attacking aquanauts under the sea, even though its "appearance" lasts for only 60 seconds...), yet he puts far less effort into creating lively characters or a versatile story, which ends up heavily overstretched and thin, with bland, stiff characters, leaving the viewers with the impression that it all might have worked probably much better as a short film. Despite its lack of a soul, "The Fabulous World" confirmed or at least announced Zeman as a Czech 'Wunderkind', and he would give his imagination a run for its money in later films as well.

Grade;++

Monday, 5 September 2016

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother; crime comedy, USA, 1975; D: Gene Wilder, S: Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Dom DeLuise, Roy Kinnear

London, 19th Century. Sherlock Holmes' younger brother, Sigerson, lives outside the life of the famous detective, but is interested enough to accept a job from Jenny Hill, a singer who contacts him for help because she was blackmailed into stealing a valuable document from the British government by opera singer Gambetti, and now wants Sigerson to get it back. With the help of his new assistant, Orville, Sigerson finds out that Professor Moriarty is behind all of this. During the opera, when Gambetti was suppose to hand the document to Moriarty's assistant, Sigerson manages to steal it, defeat Moriarty, return the document to the government and fall in love with Jenny.

One of Gene Wilder's lesser films was ironically a performance he directed himself, in his feature length debut film as a director, where he took on the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes, though serving only as his brother. Except for "The Woman in Red", "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother" established that Wilder only directed watchable to weak comedies: the sequence where Orville meets Sigerson in his apartment for the first time is very funny and even offers some bits of comedy gold (while explaining the nature of his visit, Orville is interrupted by Sigerson on several occasions, when the latter asks him about the tea, milk and sugar, and thus Orville has the habit of slapping himself and starting to explain all over again. Finally, when is about to introduce himself again for the fifth time, Orville suddenly verbally "jams" and repeats his sentence again and again, like a broken record, until this time Sigerson slaps him himself), yet it is sadly left as the only inspired highlight moment in the film, since too many later jokes end up contrived, misguided, forced or just plan bad, with the low point arriving in the form of the lame situation in which Orville and Sigerson are unaware that their butts are visible from two holes behind their suits during a diner party. The film has too many cheap attempts at humor, though Wilder has his moments even in this silly edition, mostly due to his energetic performance, whereas Marty Feldman's "chameleon" eyes ignite a chuckle at least once in the film.

Grade;+

Sunday, 4 September 2016

RoboCop

RoboCop; science-fiction, USA, 2014; D: José Padilha, S: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Samuel L. Jackson

In the future, OmniCorp corporation managed to turn massive profit by deploying ostrich-turtle like robots, ED-209, in the Middle East and other war zones. However, they are still denied access to deploy robots in the US itself, so its CEO Sellars orders Dr. Norton to create a blend of human and robot, a cyborg which will sway the public that machines could have emotions as well. The right candidates becomes cop Murphy, who was lethally injured by a car bomb, but given a robotic body as RoboCop. He manages to reduce crime in Detroit, but this also leads him to corrupt people at the top, all the way to Sellars. In a showdown, RoboCop shoots Sellars.

The remake of the critically acclaimed original from '87 should already be congratulated by the sheer fact that it doesn't suck. Still, predictably, "RoboCop" is weaker than the first film, and loses inspiration in the second half when it turns rather routine. The opening act gives a surprisingly interesting new take on the concept by showing an unfathomable broadcast of American soldiers deploying the giant ostrich-turtle like robots ED-209 in Tehran to search for insurgents from house to house, giving a subversive take how the military is using robots to avoid human casualties in wars, giving new takes of critique of corporate greed to the franchise, whereas Michael Keaton is great as the ruthless CEO of OmniCorp, as well as Samuel L. Jackson as the media host Novak. This new edition took also a rather unorthodox approach by reducing the violence and grotesque humor, since it is as violent as "RoboCop 3" - that way it became more measured and restrained, yet at the same time without bite and sharpness of the 1st film, the only exception being the graphic, disturbing sequence of Murphy observing what is left of his body after his mechanical suit is removed from his head. A big error was to suddenly, for no reason replace RoboCop's iconic suit in the first third with a new, black suit which looks fake and reminds too much of Batman's costume. Also, the second half seems rather standard and lacks highlights, with a somewhat predictable, anticlimactic ending, proving that there is something more needed than just a regular storyline.

Grade;++